Sunday, July 4, 1999
Woodward grad played as league waned
BY JOHN ERARDI
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Ron "Bunny" Warren was a senior at Woodward High School, where he played shortstop and quarterbacked the football team, when he got word the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro League were going to play at Crosley Field.
After the Negro Leagues, Bunny Warren (seated, second from right), played for the Cincinnati Tigers.
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He heard they needed a fill-in player, so he went down to Crosley Field and hooked up with them. The year was 1950. He played under the name Elias Warren, which was his brother's name, to protect his high school eligibility. He was 18 years old.
There were some good players on that Birmingham team, Pepper Bassett and Piper Davis among them. Earlier in the season, after playing 27 games with Birmingham, Willie Mays had been signed by the New York Giants and shipped to Trenton, N.J.
After Warren graduated from Woodward, the Brooklyn Dodgers signed him to a minor-league contract at the recommendation of Woodward's football coach, Cliff Alexander. Mr. Warren played with Sheboygan in the Wisconsin State League in 1951, got hurt, and was released by the Dodgers during spring training 1952.
He kept playing locally in Cincinnati; two years later, he heard one day that a Negro League team out of Detroit was passing through town on the way to Maysville, Ky., and might need a player.
"There were only four or five teams in the Negro Leagues by that time," Mr. Warren said. "That wasn't really enough to go around. But I hooked up with them. We played in Maysville and Columbus against Buck O'Neil's Kansas City Monarchs. Later, we played in Dayton and Louisville and Nashville. We also played a lot of local teams - homeys,' we called 'em - in Kokomo, Danville, Fort Wayne, places like that. It was a good way to drum up interest."
After that final go-round, Mr. Warren setted in at home and played 16 years with the Cincinnati Tigers, named after the city's Negro Leagues entry in 1934-37. Among the players were several former Negro Leaguers and minor-leaguers: Sonny Webb, Don Johnson and Teddy Richardson and Henry (Speed) Merchant, formerly of the Clowns.
"We did a lot of traveling," Mr. Warren said. "Traveled around in a converted school bus owned by the team owner, Walter (Pop) Banks. Played all over. Our home field was Gest Street Park, down the street from Crosley Field."
Mr. Warren holds workouts Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at Spring Grove playfields for 14- to 18-year-olds. He throws batting practice and hits fungoes, keeping the game alive for those who still love it.
"If we don't keep 'em interested, we lose 'em," Mr. Warren said.
Negro League Stories